Cops who killed soldiers in Sulu ‘misencounter’ disarmed, under restrictive custody — PNP

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 30)— The police personnel involved in the killing of four Army intelligence officers in Jolo, Sulu have been disarmed and placed under restrictive custody, the Philippine National Police said Tuesday.

PNP Spokesperson Bernard Banac told CNN Philippines that the policemen involved in Monday’s fatal incident — which he had called a “misencounter”— are ready to face investigation.

“We are committed to find out the truth and serve justice to the families of the slain officers and soldiers… they have been disarmed already to face the investigation,” Banac said in an interview with The Source.

Both the PNP and AFP have agreed to seek the National Bureau of Investigation’s help for a separate, impartial probe, after both parties provided conflicting versions of the incident.

Initial reports from the Sulu Provincial Police Office said the personnel involved claimed self-defense, after the soldiers supposedly lifted and pointed their firearms first to the police.

The report added that the incident occurred when the soldiers allegedly tried to flee the police station after they were brought in for questioning.

The Army, however, refuted the claims, calling the initial police report as “fabricated” and “misleading.”

Army Spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala Jr. maintained that the troops could not have engaged the policemen in a firefight as they had "properly coordinated and identified themselves" as soldiers.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Spokesperson Edgard Arevalo also denied the troops tried to leave the police station.

“I would surmise na wala naman silang masamang intention dito (they did not have an intention to harm), they moved a little further from the exact spot of the station of the PNP,” Arevalo told CNN Philippines.

As of publishing, the PNP has yet to report the number of policemen involved in the incident.

The NBI’s regional office in Zamboanga that is handling the probe was given 10 days to submit its initial report, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

‘Don’t blow things out of proportion’

The AFP urged the public not to blow things out of proportion, saying the agency continues to work well with the PNP in strengthening the country’s response against terrorism and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ang gusto po ng dalawang lider ng AFP at PNP, ay huwag na nating palakihin itong insidenteng ito,” Arevalo said.

[Translation: What the AFP and PNP leaders would want is to not make a big deal out of this incident.]

Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa— who has previously served as chief PNP— also urged ground commanders from both sides to “diffuse tensions and prevent it from escalating” pending results of the probe.

Malacañang meanwhile refused to comment further on the incident, as it also awaits results of the investigation. President Rodrigo Duterte may visit the wake of the soldiers, his spokesperson Harry Roque said, but he gave no other details.

Remains of the slain army personnel were flown to Manila on Tuesday afternoon.

Not the first time

Monday's incident was not the first “misencounter” among government security forces.

In 2002, Sulu police figured in an “accidental firefight” with members of the Philippine Marines in Jolo, which also resulted in the deaths of some civilians.

Some members of the Army also faced investigation in 2018 following a supposed misencounter with six policemen in Sta. Rita town in Samar.

READ: Soldiers apologize for cops' deaths in Samar 'misencounter'

The PNP, for its part, vowed to implement protocols and measures— including proper coordination and communication with AFP counterparts— to ensure that the incident will not happen again.

“This thing could have been prevented, this is a very big lesson to us. We’ll take this very seriously so that this won’t happen again,” Banac said.

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola, David Santos, and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.